It’s only Week 4 of the college football season, but for certain teams and programs, the pressure is already ratcheted up. And because of it, that’s why --- as we do every week at FoxSports.com --- it’s time to look at which teams are facing disaster heading into this weekend.
For those that are new to this column, here’s a quick disclaimer: We understand that the term “disaster” is broad, and means something different for every team in the country. For some, a loss could mean losing a shot at a national championship; for others, bowl games; and for some, respectability. It’s about identifying teams whose seasons will be irrevocably changed over the weekend -- not just with a loss, but perhaps with just an overall bad performance.
We’ll also avoid the obvious here; everyone knows Alabama losing to Kent State would be disastrous. You don’t need us to tell you that. We’ll also avoid the far-fetched; no one expects Marshall to beat Louisville, so the Thundering Herd's season won’t be a disaster if they lose.
However, there are plenty of teams facing disaster. Here are seven.
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USC at No. 24 Utah (Friday, 9:00 p.m. ET, FS1)
This season has already been plenty disastrous for USC, so you’d think another loss couldn’t make it worse. Considering that some of the fan base has already quit on the team and Clay Helton had to answer questions about getting attacked by players this week, you might be correct.
For USC, this game isn’t about winning or losing, as much as just having a good showing. As disappointing as the season has been, a win here and the Trojans are right back in the mix for a division title in a weak Pac-12 South. Even a close loss, against a ranked team on the road, would be a positive sign.
The one thing the Trojans must avoid is a blowout. That would be a disaster, and just the latest proof that this program is spinning out of control.
No. 23 Ole Miss vs. No. 12 Georgia (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET)
The good news for the Rebels is that if they can pull out a win, they’re still in the SEC West title chase. One loss in league play is fine, two is a near death sentence. A win over a Top 15 Georgia team at home would also rally a disappointed fan base, which believed its team could win the national championship back in August, only to see it start 1-2 overall.
If the Rebels lose, it would be disaster. They could kiss the dreams of an SEC West title goodbye and basically would be playing for nothing but pride in the second half of the season. Heck, with games at Arkansas, Texas A&M and LSU remaining, simply getting bowl eligible isn’t a guarantee.
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Iowa State vs. San Jose State (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET)
No one expected the Cyclones to be good in Matt Campbell’s first year on campus; getting bowl eligible was even a stretch. But losing three straight to open the season wasn’t the plan, either, especially with FCS foe Northern Iowa on the schedule.
That’s also why getting a win here is so important. If the Cyclones can’t beat a 1-2 San Jose State team at home in a game that kicks off at the equivalent of 9 a.m. PT for their opponents, who will they beat? The next winnable game probably wouldn’t come until Nov. 12 against Kansas, and Iowa State would be 0-9 at that point. That truly would be a disastrous start to the Campbell era.
A loss for Tennessee wouldn’t be disastrous in terms of the big-picture goals of the season. The Volunteers could still go on to win the SEC East, potentially the conference and even compete for a national championship.
However, it’s been a long time since Tennessee has beaten its hated rival, and the fan base has to wonder: If we can’t beat the Gators this year, at home, with the more experienced and talented team, when will we beat Florida? Especially with the Gators trotting out their backup quarterback with Luke Del Rio out to injury.
It’s a fair question. Although a loss wouldn’t ruin the Vols' season, it would still be plenty disastrous for Butch Jones.
Vanderbilt at Western Kentucky (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET)
No one expected the Commodores to be great this season. But improvement was expected in year three of the Derek Mason era, and a bowl game seemed realistic. Instead, this club sits at 1-2 after losing what appeared to be winnable games against South Carolina and Georgia Tech.
Now, they have to play in a true road game against a Western Kentucky club that averaged over 40 points a game last year? Good luck with that.
The worst part for Mason is that even though the Hilltoppers are talented, a loss would still be really bad. Not only would the optics of losing to a Conference USA foe look bad, but it would be hard to find the wins on the Commodores' schedule needed to get bowl eligible. It doesn’t feel like a stretch to say this is the biggest game of Mason’s time at Vandy.
Getty ImagesStacy Revere
Oregon vs. Colorado (Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET)
While anyone who follows the Ducks closely knows that things haven’t been the same since Chip Kelly left (despite making the College Football Playoff in 2014), it’s still hard to blame Oregon for the loss at Nebraska last week. The Cornhuskers are an improving club, and the game was on the road.
But if the Ducks were to lose a second straight game, this time to a perennial Pac-12 cellar-dweller at home? That, my friends, would be disaster. It’s also not unrealistic, considering how good Colorado looked on the road at Michigan last week.
Still, this is Oregon, and this is a game it needs to win. With games against Washington, Stanford and Utah still on the schedule, a loss here could mean a 7-5 finish to the season for Oregon. Or even worse.
Getty ImagesJonathan Ferrey
Auburn vs. No. 18 LSU (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET)
While there is plenty at stake for both of these two schools, the pressure seems especially high for Auburn and Gus Malzahn, whose hot seat is scorching right now.
The good news for Gus is that there is still an opportunity to make up for the team’s early season swoon. With games against Louisiana-Monroe next week and Mississippi State after that, a win here could put the Tigers at 4-2 heading into a bye on Oct. 15. That is the upside.
The downside is that the Tigers would drop to 3-3 with a loss -- with all three losses coming at home -- and with games against Arkansas, Ole Miss and Alabama looming. Suddenly, bowl eligibility wouldn’t be guaranteed.
As with Mason with Vandy, this may be the biggest game of Malzahn’s tenure at Auburn.